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Lawyer Turns Snitch in (Extremely) Bizarre Nebraska Case

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  • Lawyer Turns Snitch in (Extremely) Bizarre Nebraska Case

    Now this story might not have it all. But it comes close.

    The litany: Drugs, alleged prostitution, a fallen lawyer, murder threats, jailhouse snitches and one huge legal ethics question.

    It’s all playing out in, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska. The backstory: About three weeks ago, the Omaha World-Herald reported a riveting story involving an Omaha lawyer down on his luck who ultimately agreed to wear a wire for the U.S. attorney’s office in Nebraska. The lawyer, Terry Haddock, then taped incriminating statements made a local inmate, the alleged ringleader of a huge marijuana conspiracy.

    You read that right. A lawyer agreed to wear a wire and record statements made by an inmate. Defense lawyers are now, not surprisingly, moving to suppress the evidence.

    The inmate, Shannon Williams, has said that he hired Haddock because Haddock told him he had studied the disparities in sentences for dealing crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine.

    Federal prosecutors have not disclosed whether Haddock is being paid for his work as an informant. Still, according to this follow-up story in the World-Herald, the U.S. attorney’s office and investigators have defended their actions, pointing to Williams’ criminal history and to precedents in which federal courts have said attorney-client privilege does not extend to plots to commit crimes.

    They also have asserted that the Haddock, made it clear to Williams that he was not Williams’ attorney and would do no legal work for him.

    And Haddock has told others that he had to act because Williams, a man who was acquitted of murder and has an extensive criminal record, talked about eliminating witnesses.

    Assuming all this is true, the government’s actions may well have been legal, sources told the World-Herald. But is it nevertheless a tactic the government should be employing?

    “If it doesn’t violate the letter of the law when it comes to attorney-client privilege, it certainly violates the spirit,” says Douglas County, Neb., public defender Tom Riley to the World Herald. Riley added that he “about fell out of my chair” when he learned that an attorney had turned informant.

    Legal but unethical. That seems to be the presiding sentiment among legal-ethics folks. Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in LA, said she found it “shocking” to read of federal prosecutors’ willingness to use Haddock — and of Haddock’s willingness to be used.

    “It is not just a question of legally can I do it, but ethically should I,” Natapoff said.

    Creighton University law professor R. Collin Mangrum said many attorneys would be reluctant to be wired because of “the appearance of using the attorney-client relationship to manipulate the outcome … to encourage the guy to commit a crime.”

    However, Mangrum noted that attorneys cannot ignore a client’s stated plans to commit crimes.

    “The attorney takes oaths for justice as well,” Mangrum said. “It’s really a question of whether anyone, attorney or not, should be involved in helping to catch a bad guy.”

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